Firefighter with epilepsy sues city after being suspended

Thursday, February 21, 2008 By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A 27-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau filed suit in federal court Tuesday alleging that he was illegally suspended from his job following a diagnosis of epilepsy.

Fire Capt. David J. Cerminara, 51, of Banksville, said yesterday that he is running out of the sick time and vacation he has relied on since being placed on involuntary leave in April.

In his lawsuit, filed by attorney Samuel J. Cordes, he alleges that the city violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by not returning him to work, and demands that he be allowed to go back on the job, with back pay and compensation for distress.

"To just throw somebody out after 27 years because they've had a seizure, it's unheard of," Mr. Cordes said. "The city has an obligation to accommodate any disability."

He said Capt. Cerminara had a seizure in March, but was put on medication and released to return to work by his neurologist. The complaint alleges that a doctor paid by the city then wrote to Capt. Cerminara's neurologist, indicating that the city requires that a firefighter be off seizure medications and seizure-free for one year before he can work.

Mr. Cordes said that standard is no longer espoused for veteran firefighters by the National Fire Protection Association and violates federal law. The Epilepsy Foundation has criticized governments that bar people with seizure disorders from police and fire jobs.

"It excludes people with epilepsy or seizures from serving as firefighters when they're perfectly capable of doing the job," Mr. Cordes said.

"There have been gentlemen before who had seizures who went right back to work," Capt. Cerminara said. "They put me on medication, and I haven't had any problem since."

Administration officials said they hadn't seen the complaint and could not comment.

"This is a 27-year veteran who has been put through quite a lot of hell over nothing," Mr. Cordes said. "He's within eight days of having no money whatsoever, and he's done nothing wrong."